Flipping the historically Republican Colorado House District 43 came down to a dedicated door-to-door campaign effort and a platform derived from listening to voters’ concerns, its newly-elected representative and Democrats say following the election.
Voters in House District 43, which covers the Highlands Ranch area, elected Democratic candidate Robert Marshall over the incumbent Republican Rep. Kurt Huffman in a race decided by less than one percentage point.
Marshall’s win results in the first Democrat to represent Highlands Ranch in at least a decade.
Karin Asensio, executive director of the Colorado Democratic Party and an HD43 voter, said she was not surprised at the results because of Marshall’s commitment to seeking out every voter.
“I think (Marshall’s) approach was to go to everyone and connect with people and going beyond party lines and simply connecting with folks,” she said. “He went above and beyond and worked harder than I’ve ever seen.”
Marshall didn’t doubt his ability to win, he told Colorado Community Media on election night, though he said Huffman was a strong competitor.
“I was confident I was going to win,” he said. “I only became a little less confident when I lost 10 campaign days (due to COVID-19) and knew my opponent was out there working his ass off.”
On top of Marshall’s strong physical presence in the district, Asensio said his campaign via plane and vintage Army Jeep, as well as the canvassing efforts of the Douglas County Democrats, made him “omnipresent.”
Asensio said some in the party never considered it possible for a Democrat to win in Highlands Ranch. Only 23% of voters in House District 43 are registered as Democrats, compared to 33% Republicans and 43% unaffiliated.
Highlands Ranch has been represented by a string of Republican representatives, with Douglas County Election data showing conservative candidates winning House District 43 by over 20 percentage points in the 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 elections.
The 2020 election results were much closer with five percentage points between incumbent Rep. Kevin Van Winkle and his Democratic challenger Jennifer Mitkowski.
Huffman was appointed to the seat in June when Republican Rep. Kevin Van Winkle was appointed to represent Colorado Senate District 30 following the retirement of Sen. Chris Holbert.
Huffman posted a concession message to Facebook on Nov. 18, where he thanked his family and supporters, and wished Marshall well.
“The final election results are in and although the outcome isn’t what we had hoped for, I am proud of our team and our campaign,” he wrote. “We worked tirelessly and gave this race all we had.”
The Douglas County GOP did not return multiple requests for an interview with Colorado Community Media.
Despite the odds, Asensio said the Colorado Democratic Party believes in running strong candidates in every district to build onto past efforts and, hopefully, eventually flip conservative seats. She cited Adam Frisch’s nearly-successful campaign against Rep. Lauren Boebert as an example.
“I have always worked really hard to make sure we would get there one day and I’m really happy that Bob is the one who did it,” she said. “Look at (Colorado Congressional District 3), Adam Frisch got so close and that was not expected by anyone in the nation. And (Frisch) did the same model as Bob Marshall of just talking to every voter.”
Marshall campaigned with a focus on public education, public safety and the environment, which Marshall said were concerns he shared with his constituents.
“Public education and public safety were the top two (constituent priorities), which were my top two issues from when I launched the campaign, so I was meshing very well with the community,” he said.
Asensio agreed Marshall had a message that resonated with voters, who she said want reasonable legislators. She said voters were tired of not feeling heard and not having their concerns addressed.
“They wanted someone who actually listened to them and showed up for them, which is not the case with their predecessor,” Asensio said, referencing Rep. Van Winkle. “The history of what he introduced did not represent the people in the district, it represented the fringe.”
Marshall said one of his top priorities as a legislator will be making himself available to constituents.
“The big thing is I do intend to represent all of Highlands Ranch and everyone by being open and accessible,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Karin Asensio's name.